Jon Keller is having breakfast in a Swiss hotel when the world ends. Another guest at the hotel receives a notification on her Twitter: Washington has been destroyed by a nuclear weapon. New York follows. Then Scotland, China, Germany. Now only twenty people remain at the hotel whilst the state of the outside world remains a mystery.
On day fifty, Jon and some of the other hotel guests find the body of a murdered girl. A historian by profession (Jon had been visiting Switzerland for an academic conference), our protagonist takes it upon himself to both document his time at the hotel and try and solve the mystery of the murdered girl. What ensues is a heady blend of post-apocalyptic story, murder mystery and psychological thriller.
The Last (2019) is another addition to an already bloated genre. How many times have we seen the world end? What Hanna Jameson does provide is a new twist: a high concept thriller blended with murder mystery. Critics have hailed the book as a mixture of Agatha Christie and Stephen King, but The Last doesn’t always read like an original addition to the genre. Tired, recycled tropes make their inevitable appearance: the raided supermarkets, the miraculously remaining stashes of antibiotics, the gun-toting outlaws, the good guys turned bad. The intrigue that the murder might have held is diluted by harried plotlines that we’ve seen again and again.
There are moments in the book so startlingly unconvincing that readers will be pulled right out of the story. It takes the guests two months to leave the hotel. They imagine that the law beyond the confines of the remote forest in which the hotel is situated has all but dissolved, that the public has run amok, or that whatever cities there were no longer exist. Fine. All are plausible. But not to look? It seems unbelievable that twenty adults would not be curious to see what’s out there.
When the guests eventually do leave the hotel, they head straight to a supermarket where, mindblowingly, there are still items on the shelves. There is even a locked pharmacy where the guests pick up medicine. What’s more, they don’t fully explore the hotel they are staying in. There are a thousand rooms in the building, and yet they do not check every room for supplies. Even by the three month mark. This falls so short of being believable that readers may find it hard to persevere.
Jameson does write well. Her prose is spare and elegant, her characters less so. Readers looking for a post-apocalyptic thriller will get what they are looking for, but those seeking more or something they haven’t seen before will not find it here.